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May 27, 2007

Karachi’s own Marwari community:

May 27, 2007


In the narrow lanes of Ranchore Lines, resides a small close-knit community called the Marwaris. These are just a handful of people living in harmony abiding by the rules of their Jamaat in an organised community manner. For this community, Ranchore Lines is the focal point of their activity as this is where elders first settled in this part of the world.

But while their dwellings are modest, the community is responsible for some of the grandest buildings that the city can boast of. Many old buildings and monuments of Karachi are evidence of hard work of Marwari craftsmen and builders. These include the KMC building, Empress Market, KPT building, Hindu Gymkhana and Sindh high court. Most of the Marwaris are now found to be contractors and builders.

Originally, Marwaris are a group of people from the Marwar region of Rajasthan in India. After partition some Muslim members moved to Sindh and southern Punjab in Pakistan. Today there are about half a million Marwaris living in the country. While the elders speak the Marwari language, the younger generation to a large extent does not.

The word Marwar is considered to be derived from the Sanskrit word Maruwat, the meaning of maru being ‘desert’. Others believe that word Marwar is made up of Mar from the alternate name of Jaisalmer and the last part war of Mewar.

The community in Karachi says that their roots can be traced back to Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. Here community members were engaged in brick work for buildings and monuments. Also, Jaisalmer was of great importance, as it happened to be the centre of trade between Karachi and Bombay. The main source of revenue for the Raja of the area was the toll tax that the traders paid while commuting from Karachi.

After the Bombay port was developed, overland trade suffered a blow depriving the Raja of his income for which the ultimate sufferers were the people. Left with no option, these people migrated elsewhere. The

great “Meers” of those times ruled in the Sindh area and the group of Marwaris who migrated here was given the responsibility of making mausoleums and tombs. After 1848, when the British entered Sindh, a handful of the latter slowly started moving to Karachi.

In the beginning, only men migrated to Karachi. Ranchore Lines was the first place of settlement. Even today, the largest community resides here. The houses are basic and the lanes are narrow. In such conditions one would imagine life to be very tough but a visit to the area and meeting the people gives a different impression altogether. With the exception of just a few, most Marwaris prefer settling in Ranchore Lines where the community harmony still exists. Even the few exceptions who live elsewhere make it a point to come to Ranchore Lines every weekend.

Marwaris in Karachi believe that their ancestors were initially Hindus when they migrated to Sindh. Interestingly, they hold this belief that the present Pir of Pagara’s grandfather converted their ancestors to Islam.

While the whole community living in Ranchore Lines is Muslim, by and large Marwaris are predominantly Hindu and Jain in the subcontinent. Regardless of their affiliation, Hindu and Jain Marwaris mingle with each other socially. In some cases they share matrimonial relations and traditional rituals together. But the Muslims, who are found in both India and Pakistan, try to maintain a separate identity.

To ensure working of the community in harmony, the Marwari Jamaat plays a very important role. Muslim Marwari Salawata Jamaat in Ranchore Lines ensures coordination amongst the members and plays the role of an arbitrator to settle disputes many times.

They strongly believe in the “Baradri” system. Due to this, marriages mostly take place within the community. However, marriages in the community have an interesting rule which dictates that if a man marries a girl outside the community, he will be “pardoned” for his act. But if a girl dares to do so, she will be barred from the Jamaat membership. The president of the Jamaat, Lala Mohammad Hussain Baloch, justifies this by saying that it is to ensure that traditions and customs of the baradri system prevail.

The festivities of marriage are almost the same amongst all Marwaris. They start from the time of engagement and continue till the wedding time. Nikah ceremonies are mostly held on Friday with Rukhsati on Saturday. “There are no hard and fast rules for dowry. If the parents can afford it, they can provide it at the time of marriage. If not, they even give the dowry after a few months. But there are no demands from the boy’s family” Baloch added.

Talking about food, Marwaris have a lot of goodies. But the traditional food that they usually have at dinnertime is “khichri and daal”. This is usually followed by “rabri”. Inclination towards education is more amongst girls in the community who more often than not, outshine the boys. Most of them take up teaching as their profession. Around 1,000 teachers of the Salawata Marwari Jamaat are teaching all over the city. On the contrary, if boys pass their matriculate, it is considered to be a big achievement.

The Salawata Jamaat also plays the role of settling and resolving issues of family and property. “It has made the community hospital, schools and also has a Zakat and Fitra fund,” Baloch disclosed.